Anger is a basic human emotion which lets us know that something is wrong. It is like an alarm system which kicks in the fight-or-flight response, adrenalin gets pumped into the bloodstream and we are ready to fight for our rights, our protection and self-preservation. Therefore it is a good idea not to ignore feelings of anger. Suppressing or repressing them can lead to false compliance, resentment and eventually depression.
Sometimes people are fearful of anger, other people’s or their own; they may have suffered at the hands of an angry person and vowed never to become like that themselves. Other people only have the role-model of an angry person and only know how to express their anger destructively, sometimes causing relationship difficulties, because of a quick temper, getting angry for no apparent reason, ranting and then ending up feeling shocked, confused, guilty, ashamed or lonely. We may find it difficult to express our anger without anxiety. This can lead to low self-esteem.
However, learning how to express anger more usefully, can be a valid, challenging question. Psychotherapy and counselling will enable people to get in touch with their anger in a healthy way, to acknowledge it and to express it constructively, rather than destructively. Exploring feelings of anger in their multi-faceted way can help people not to experience their anger in a one-dimensional or damaging way, so that we can then express ourselves in more controlled and purposeful ways.
Some people internalise their anger, taking it inside themselves, ‘beating themselves up’, rather than expressing it, ending up feeling bad or guilty. We may turn our anger inwards onto ourselves or become bitter.
Some people use anger to hide behind, to dominate, rather than be strong, because it only feels safe to continue in the role of the dominant person, as anger may give them a false sense of superiority, keeping people at a distance. The therapy can help you to build real strength and self-esteem from the inside, so that you are not dependent on other people’s opinion of you for your own confidence any longer.
Some of us have got into the habit of using our anger passive-aggressively, i.e. sulking or being silent, being slow or ‘difficult’. We can explore in the therapy how and why we have built up this defensive behaviour.
In counselling and psychotherapy, we may look at your anger style and explore together what makes you angry in the first place, what pushes your buttons which invoke your anger or rage; we may consider whether it is anger you are experiencing, or irritation, agitation or frustration and how this may connect with your earlier experiences of unmet needs or unrealistic expectations. Some people feel that it is not safe to be vulnerable, so they have become used to expressing their anger to cover up other, more terrifying feelings of weakness or shame. The therapy may help to contain your anger, so we are developing a capacity to be with our anger in a calm way. We may need to learn how to express difficult feelings sensitively, so that we can be assertive without being angry.
It is also important to find ways to practice becoming calm. There are many routes to this, such as yoga, mindfulness and breathing techniques. We have seen some people benefit from taking up a new activity that forces them to clear their mind and focus solely on the task in hand. For many, this will be a sport, such as running, or a team game. However, we have heard of people using freediving and sailing, harnessing the motion of the ocean within themselves. Vacations that include a freediving course might be a good way to roll several relaxing events into one – some time in a new location, a holiday and teaching in the art of breathing control and diving.